Chuck Armstrong will leave the Mariners at the end of January. He has worked with the Mariners for 28 of the past 30 years. If you read some of the comments across the internet, you would think the baseball gods have sent the angels of justice down with harps, singing pristine melodies and making the universe right again. Armstrong doesn't leave under duress from other leadership in the Mariners organization, but he has been a target of the team's woes, along with Howard Lincoln, for some time.
But nothing is ever all that black-and-white, particularly when someone hangs around in a high leadership position for three decades, which so happens to be about three-quarters of M's entire existence. Yes, everything you hate about the Mariners has something to do with Chuck Armstrong. This might be a newsflash though: everything you like about the Mariners has something to do with Chuck Armstrong too.
I didn't know exactly what Armstrong did until Shannon Drayer broke it down on her blog. Basically, Armstrong was the day-to-day manager, so that there is only one voice going to the CEO (Howard Lincoln). As such, Armstrong had direct communication and knowledge of all things Mariners - from trades and free agent signings to television contracts and ballpark improvements.
If Dave Niehaus is the voice of the Mariners, Chuck Armstrong might just be the heartbeat. Think about it: for the majority of the franchise's existence, Armstrong has had his hands in everything - radio deals, TV deals, even spanning multiple ownership groups. Armstrong played a key role in keeping the team in Seattle twice, first when Nintendo bought the team, and again when Safeco Field was built. One of his last significant accomplishments was negotiating the Root Sports purchase, giving the Mariners their own regional sports network. Armstrong hasn't played a game, or built anything physically, but he has been the steady pulse which keeps all aspects of the Mariners in motion. Armstrong is a victim of his own success to some degree, as without his leadership there probably wouldn't be a fledgling Seattle Mariners franchise to be bitter about in the first place. They would have left town years ago.
So, I for one believe that Chuck Armstrong deserves a salute as he rides off into the sunset. He has a great passion for the Mariners and a passion for the community they play in. Not every franchise has a leader like that. I really wonder how many franchises have a leader who, like Armstrong did, essentially go against the ideas of the ownership that employs them to find someone willing to keep a team in its community. The legal steps taken to build Safeco were...interesting (at best), but at the end of the day Armstrong's record suggests a sincere desire to embed the Mariners as a proud franchise in Seattle. Safeco Field and Root Sports are tangible signs of his success, and for those I tip my cap to him as he leaves.
With that said, this could be the development that finally shakes the Mariners out of their doldrums. Larry Stone penned a wonderful piece that more or less takes the thoughts right out of my mind. Safeco Field and Root Sports make the Mariners a sleeping giant, in part because the franchise hasn't figured out how to tap those resources as of yet. The restless fans and constant losing suggest that the current M's leadership wasn't about to figure out how to tap into those resources. New leadership isn't guaranteed to do what previous leadership couldn't, but it sure seems reasonable to think that new blood has a better chance, based on what we have seen.
Personally, I would like to see the Mariners go in a really different direction. They have a rare opportunity to reinvent their whole organization. Splitting Armstrong's job up and reorganizing roles makes a ton of sense to me because the franchise itself has sprawled into some major new areas in the past couple decades. Armstrong had way more to oversee in the past few years, and the results suggest it might have been too much for one person to do effectively.
The baseball operations side looks way different than it did a generation ago. The rise of saber metrics has led to whole analytics departments. International scouting is a way bigger deal now too, particularly now that there are international signing bonus rules. The draft faces more scrutiny now as well, thanks to increased television coverage. It seems to me having one person watch over all those branches of baseball operations would make good sense. This could (should?) be Jack Zduriencik, though perhaps he could also have a reduced role of sorts and someone is brought in above him that oversees everything. I don't know what that would look like, but perhaps it's an option.
The business side of the Mariners looks much different too, thanks to the regional sports network. I would imagine someone should have some day-to-day oversight over that if the team owns it, and that duty would most logically fall underneath the "business" side of the franchise. Having another person oversee Safeco Field, pubic relations, and the regional sports network might make some good sense as well.
Then, the baseball person and business person would both report to Howard Lincoln, who then reports to the board of advisors. Yes, it would mean two voices in Lincoln's ear, but it sure seems like baseball operations could use more attention with all the losing going on, and the business side is set to expand even further with the Root Sports purchase. It would be up to Lincoln and the board of advisors to have a common vision and be in dialogue with both of these branches to make sure that day-to-day decisions reflect the mission and priorities of the franchise.
The Mariners, quietly, have become the most unstable franchise in baseball. That sounds bad, but they've been losing 90-100 games with stability. The uncertainty is a good thing in my book, a very good thing actually. Uncertainty means a wider range of possibilities, which when you are near the bottom like the Mariners, more possibilities that improve the franchise.
I am a math major, and a quote from Isaac Newton comes to mind as I wrap up this post. Newton once said in a letter to Robert Hooke, "If I have seen further it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants." If the Mariners are to finally win a World Series, it will be both because Chuck Armstrong is gone and because he was around for so long. A successful successor will sit on his shoulders.